Taking control of your health
Despite being a doctor for nearly 20 years, I still see patients who attend clinic boasting the fact that they have not been to their GP for 30+ years, as if this is a thing to be proud of.
Historically, medicine has always taken a rather reactive approach to health; if you have chest pain call 999, if you have a cough go see your doctor, or if you get a bite attend your local pharmacy. Of course, these are important signposts that people should be aware of, but where is the health promotion for those that want to maximise their health and wellbeing, and reduce their chances of developing diseases in the future?
About health optimisation
Generally, illness prevention and health optimisation has fallen into the lifestyle advice of “eat well, exercise and get a good night’s sleep”, and while this is clearly important, it will not prevent the onset of all illnesses.
Furthermore, health optimisation has tended to sit outside the remit of doctors who tend to only treat established illness and disease. But not in all cases, and this is where the idea of a health check has come in. There are many conditions such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, low testosterone, chronic kidney disease, (and many more), which, if caught early, can reduce the chances of more serious complications occurring in the future.
Some of these conditions have no symptoms, and some, (such as low testosterone), may be mistaken for the normal ageing process and therefore may be dismissed. Without symptoms, many men will not go to their doctor to be tested, which increases the risk of complications and more serious illnesses developing over time.
What health check options are available?
The NHS offers a free health check for everyone aged 40-74 every 5 years, (provided you do not already have medical condition that excludes you from this screen). It tests for metabolic and cardiovascular risk and looks at conditions such as high cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. Within the confines and budget restrictions of what the NHS can offer, the over 40’s health check is great, and has picked up silent medical conditions in thousands of people before they even developed symptoms. But is this enough?
You might decide to pay for a more in-depth, private health assessment, and can easily spend over a thousand pounds for this, (although I wouldn’t). Some private health checks put you on bike, measure your VO2 max, may boast to have more than 40 different health markers, or ask you stand in a big scanner while it measures all your body fat (and irradiates you at the same time). In practice, many of these are not necessary and provide little in the way of truly beneficial data that can alter health outcomes.